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Kovacevic: Hurdle wants it 'all on me?' OK, sure

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 11:12 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle takes the ball from starter A.J. Burnett during the third inning after the Cardinals scored seven runs Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — Remember A.J. Burnett's words?

“I won't drop the ball.”

That was his quick-witted quip when asked before this National League Division Series how he might handle a belligerent Busch Stadium crowd. And let's not lie, it was funny, even if it came at the expense of already emasculated Johnny Cueto.

One catch: Better not get tagged for a touchdown the next time out.

“This is tough,” Burnett huffed with an exhale in an otherwise silent clubhouse after the Pirates were crushed by the Cardinals, 9-1, in Game 1 Thursday. “You want to come out and put your foot down. That wasn't the case.”

Not in the slightest: Two-plus innings, seven earned runs, six hits, four walks, a hit batter and a ridiculous ratio of 38 strikes in 72 pitches.

He might have been closer to the plate with some pitches if he had dropped the ball.

But sorry, the number that bugs me most — yes, even after Adam Wainwright's unholy curveball rendered all else moot — was that inning count.

You know, the two- plus.

What was Clint Hurdle thinking?

Suffice it to say the manager didn't appear to appreciate it much when I raised the topic in the postgame presser.

“Please, put it all on me,” he semi-boomed through a semi-smile. “That was my decision. So as I've told you guys, when we win, give the players all the credit. When we lose, give the manager all the blame.”

I believe in Hurdle. I believe he's more responsible than anyone for all we've witnessed in this wonderful summer, and yes, that absolutely includes game strategy, which unfairly gets cited only after losses.

But Hurdle indefensibly, inexplicably blew this one.

When Burnett first took the mound, a double-wave of shadows covered the Busch infield, making it tough for batters to pick up the ball. Wainwright took full advantage and went right at the Pirates with a dozen pitches. Burnett used 21.

Next inning, the Cardinals opened with two singles, but both were softies. He got out of it thanks to a double play.

Then came the third.

Burnett stunningly walked Wainwright on seven all-over-creation offerings.

What was that?

“Ball was cutting away,” Burnett said with a head shake. “Happened all night.”

By this point, it was all shadows, and the Cardinals teed off: Matt Carpenter singled, and Carlos Beltran followed with a monstrous three-run home run off the flattest of sinkers.

It was 3-0, Burnett needed 53 pitches to get six outs, Wainwright had looked dominant, and Hurdle … did nothing.

Not a soul stirred in the pen.

Holliday doubled to the gap.

Still nothing.

Matt Adams was plunked.


Yadier Molina walked, and, finally, finally, Jeanmar Gomez began tossing out there.

But while Hurdle fiddled, Rome burned: Jon Jay was handed a bases-loaded walk, David Freese singled to score everyone else, and it was 7-0.

That's when Gomez got the call, even though — per Hurdle — he'd been ready for Freese.

Even though Ray Searage, a pitching genius, had paid a mound visit earlier and had to know Burnett was bankrupt.

Even though Burnett himself assessed his status as if describing wreckage: “I was anxious, out in front. The sinker was cutting. I had no hook. I was able to execute a pitch here or there but never to repeat my delivery.”

Read that last sentence again, and ask how this pitcher was allowed to see eight batters in an inning without recording an out, while 10 other fresh relievers went unused.

Hurdle's explanation; “Given the situation, with A.J. and his work, we felt we'd give him that last hitter, Freese, to get the ground-ball double-play, see if we could get some balance and keep the game right where it was. Three feet to the left ... but the ball is by us. Three more runs score after that.”

Say what?

This wasn't about Freese. It was about how the bases became loaded for Freese courtesy of a pitcher fighting himself so badly he was incapable of, in his own words, repeating his delivery.

Hey, I hope A.J.'s back in a possible Game 5. I really do. He'll be fresh and fired up. He almost always bounces back.

But if he doesn't, it sure would behoove the Pirates to not act like it's some rainy Tuesday night in April.

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